By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Once a month, former military men and women undergoing treatment for various ailments at the Brooklyn Veterans Administration Medical Center receive visits from high school students who bring them cookies and play cards with them. But mostly, the teenagers like to sit with the veterans and hear their life stories.
“You hear the most amazing stories,” Sean Eagan, a junior at Monsignor Farrell High School, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “These guys have served our country in war and they have a lot to say,” he said.
Egan is the founder of “Hearing Our Heroes,” a student-led organization of volunteers who visit the VA hospital in Bay Ridge each month to spend time with the veterans and show that they care about them.
Founded in December of 2011, the organization started off small. “We had a few kids at my school,” Egan, a Staten Islander, said. The number of volunteers mushroomed and now there are “Hearing Our Heroes” chapters in six high schools. The group got its name after Egan and his friends were sitting around one day talking about the hospital visits. “We said to each other, ‘What is it that we do, exactly?’ We talked about it and realized that what we’re here to do its listen to our heroes. We want to show them that somebody cares about them and that somebody is here to listen to them,” he said.
Egan and his buddies, all wearing “Hearing Our Heroes” T-shirts, came to the VA hospital on March 27 to pay another visit. This time, they were accompanied by US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island), who is also a US Marine, having served in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. “I think what these kids are doing is amazing. I’m so proud of them,” Grimm said.
Standing in the lobby, preparing to be brought up a ward to visit patients undergoing treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other battle-related illnesses, Grimm and the students were approached by numerous veterans and hospitals employees who greeted them like they were old friends.
“Hey, Semper Fi, brother!” US Marine Michael Christiano said to Grimm, shouting the marine slogan, as he walked up to him to shake his hand. “What these kids are doing is great,” Christiano, a Vietnam War veteran, said.
Grimm and the teenagers also chatted with Patrick Naughton, a US Army veteran. “He was a medic,” Grimm said. “Those guys could write a book,” he added.
Egan said he and his fellow “Hearing Our Heroes” members enjoy listening to the old war stories. Sometimes, the tales are sad, he said. “There was one veteran, who had fought in Vietnam, who told us that people were spitting on him when he came back. I thought that was rotten. You can hate the war if you want to, but don’t take it out on the guy who’s just doing his duty for his country,” Egan said.
“That’s why I’m glad we’re doing what we’re doing,” Egan said. “People willing to lay their lives down for our country should be appreciated. It’s the least we can do,” he said.
Jennifer Sammartino, a spokeswoman for the VA Medical Center, said the Bay Ridge Hospital treats approximately 20,000 veterans a year from Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens.
“We love it when the students visit,” Sammartino said. “It really cheers our patients up. The staff loves it too,” she said.
“The best thing about this organization,” Grimm said, “is that it‘s organic. The kids started it themselves. The schools didn’t do it.’
Within a few minutes, the congressman and the students were whisked upstairs to spend time with the patients.